On my last post about racism, I got lots of sympathy for getting called a racist. Thanks. But that still wasn’t really my point. The post might have come out a little like one of those finger diarrhea writings, but after publishing it I’ve thought a little more about it and here’s where my problem really is with the whole situation:
A beggar in the street can single me out to ask for charity when he wouldn’t ask another Haitian that passed by him simply because I’m white, but if I politely apologize for not being able to help him out, I’m the racist.
My staff expects me to find all the money to pay their salaries even though we’re all equally responsible for the management of the organization. Why? Because I’m white and being white is perceived to mean having access to money. Yet if I’m a day late with that money, I’m the racist?
A guy on a motorcycle passing by can yell an insult at me without even knowing me just because I’m white and he saw me and wanted to use me to represent an entire nation or culture of people. Yet if I respond to him, I’m the racist.
A girl at a bar or a soccer game can hit on me not because she is particularly attracted to me, but just because I’m white and assumed to be filthy rich and she likes nice things and is looking for a sugar daddy. Yet if I reject her, I’m the racist.
This is not a commentary on Haitians being close-minded hypocrites. This is a commentary on the fact that white people being so racist throughout history has ruined the possibility for any other white person to effectively interact with another culture. The problem is that the world already perceives us as the racists of the world. That’s the reputation that we have.
Because my ancestors spent years and years enslaving and exploiting and raping and using and demeaning their ancestors, now they have every right to be racist towards me and still blame me for it somehow. Because people who look like me will still shoot people who look like them for no other reason than their scary skin color, and get away with it, now I can’t get even get away with telling a Haitian guy to quit being a stubborn jerk when he’s actually being a stubborn jerk. But he’s black, so I must be a racist. It’s a very backwards, very inverted sort of racism that white people in non-white cultures today have to deal with.
And we in the US are very conscious about having this sort of national dialog about the issue and how it affects us within the US, but we never stop to realize that even having that dialog has effects way beyond our own little American bubble. In that bubble it’s safe to discuss race and point out injustices. But when an American steps outside of that bubble and into one that’s much blacker, he carries all of that cultural self-absorbancy with him and his skin color publicizes it to all of the more melanin-blessed individuals around him. White people to the rest of the world are automatically assumed to be racist, and if you look at our history and the current news that we spread to the world, it’s a very legitimate assumption.
I have to fight like hell here to prove that I’m not a racist. Even to my staff and friends who have known me well for years, once in a while in moments of frustration, my culture’s tradition of racism is used against me. And as I’ve said before on this blog, even wanting to help someone, if it’s perceived to be because they are black, can be viewed as racist. If you’re white and you want to help Haitians in need of help, but once you’re here you assume everyone needs help the same just because they’re Haitian and all look the same, and Haiti has been labeled “poor”, then that’s a form of racism. My recent review of the TOMS approach is a good example. “They’re Haitian so they must be in need of our foreign shoes.”
The vast majority of messages that people in this country are receiving about white people is telling them that we’re all racist. And it’s because we as white people, whether we’re waving the white pride flag or we’re burning it, we’re drawing attention to it. Even the fight against racism shouldn’t be about racism. If you’re telling someone not to be racist, everyone outside of that interaction is going to remember the fact that there were racists in the first place.
If I bring an African American friend to one of my mashed potato family gatherings and my uncle happens to tell a racist joke without even realizing how offensive it is, then my grandma goes and retells the story at her beauty shop in front of all the town gossips, pretty soon every one in town has heard that my uncle is a racist but no one cares that there was actually a black person present who brought a delicious dish of spicy mixed vegetables. Those ladies at the beauty shop would probably love the recipe but they never got it because they were too busy marveling at how racist my uncle is, probably while making racist comments of their own. (For the record, I don’t think my uncles are racist. Although I can’t defend their taste in jokes either.)
This is what I see happening in the world as I pass through it as a white man outside of the white bubble. People in Haiti, for certain, hear about all of the racial injustices that happen in our country and they’ve personally experienced all of the injustices that have been exported to their country. They also want to prove that they aren’t ignorant to that reality and are ready to stand visibly against those injustices if they see them potentially affecting them individually. And we need to realize that continuing to send good intentions wrapped in white is not going to change this.
And I’m not sure that anything can change that. Like I said, maybe we’ve ruined it already and it may take generations of living differently for that change. Living differently, speaking differently, and seeing differently. Although I’m quite certain I’ll probably spend the rest of my life surrounded by people with a more interesting skin color than my own, I assume that I’ll still have to carry around the burden of what that skin color says about racism in our world just as long. But if we can each start to commit by ourselves towards living differently, it needs to begin with talking about these things and realizing the depth of what they mean. That’s how we can begin to see differently. Speaking differently and even thinking differently will take an honest effort, but living differently will evolve from the rest as we continue to have authentic interactions with one another about colors no matter what colors we each are.
So please, don’t feel sorry for me because I got called racist. But realize that you do play a role in whether it does or does not happen again. We all do whether we’re black, white, purple, American, Haitian, African, or other. If we want different outcomes it’s not enough to just talk about how wrong the existing outcomes are. We each have to be willing to live differently with one another.
Now hold hands with the person nearest to you and sing “We Are The World”!